Sensory Processing Disorder Parent Support
Sensory Processing Disorder Parent Support 

Sensory Processing Flight, Fight, Freeze & Fawn  

Children with sensory differences ... painting the world beautiful.  

Sensory Processing Flight, Fight, Freeze & Fawn 

Jeanette Loftus 

child who has anxiety and sensory processing disorder scared in fight or flight Sensory Processing Flight, Fight, Freeze & Fawn
The Flight Fight & Freeze Fawn response is essentially the body's natural reaction to perceived threats or stressors.

This response is a combination of four survival instincts: flight, fight, freeze, and fawn. When faced with a potentially overwhelming situation, children with sensory differences may demonstrate one or more of these responses.
The flight response is characterized by a child's desire to escape or avoid a situation that they perceive as overwhelming.

This may manifest as running away, hiding, or shutting down completely. Children who experience the flight response may become anxious, agitated, and have difficulty focusing on tasks.

The fight response is when a child becomes combative or aggressive in response to a perceived threat. This can manifest as physical outbursts, tantrums, and difficulty following rules or directions. Children who experience the fight response may also have difficulty with self-regulation and controlling their emotions.

 Flight or flight & Freeze is when a child's body naturally prepares for an attack and gets ready for a threat. In highly anxious situations the fight or flight & freeze response is triggered. This is what our bodies do to react to dangerous situations. Anxiety is an emotion that protects us from harm and danger but for some children it can happen when they are not in danger at all.
After a traumatic event in a child's life, they can develop an exaggerated anxious stress response. This is usually if the child has PTSD, have been abused or have experienced a stressful life event such as a natural disaster.

Flight, flight, freeze and fawn are all stress responses for children. Flight, fight or freeze can all be an extremely scary reaction to stress that children can have. Most adults and children do not understand flight, fight or freeze responses and are confused why they are having these survival responses.

It is important to explain to children why they are having these stress responses so they don't believe something is wrong with them. When you see that your child is feeling overwhelmed or dysregulated ask them to take a deep breath. Teach them some mindful activities that they are able to do when they are feeling sensory overload.

The freeze response is when a child becomes completely immobile and unresponsive to external stimuli. This response is often seen in children who are overwhelmed by sensory information and may shut down as a way to cope. They may appear to be in a daze or trance-like state and have difficulty responding to their surroundings.

 When a child who has Sensory Processing Disorder is overwhelmed by sensory input their reactions may be Fight, Flight, Freeze or Fawn!

Flight - when a child is scared, withdrawn, panicking and feels they need to run from threats to be safe in isolation.

Fight- when a child is overwhelmed and they are preparing to fight off danger or threats.

Freeze- when a child is still in their movement, frustrated and overwhelmed that the child can not speak or move.

Fawn- is a trauma response when a child will people please and be overly compliant to avoid conflict or ensure safety. 

The final response, fawn, is when a child exhibits a desire to please and appease others. This response may manifest as excessive compliance or people-pleasing behavior. Children with the fawn response may also have difficulty setting boundaries and standing up for themselves.

Ask your child if they need a break to do some breathing exercises or to practice other coping skills they have learned. Ask your child which mindful breathing coping activity they prefer and sit down and do the chosen activity with your child together.

Once you observe that your child is regulated and feeling calmer, redirect them back to the activity and let them know you are going to get through it together. Taking a break will help your child from getting dysregulated.
child with sensory processing What triggers a fight, flight, freeze or Fawn  response?
What triggers a fight, flight or freeze response?
- sensory overload
- transitions from one place to another
- feeling lonely or rejected by peers
- feeling unsafe/trauma 
- being hungry or thirsty
- transitioning from one activity to the next activity
- feeling they could be in trouble
- when their routine changes unexpectedly
- changes they weren't expecting (unpredictability)
There are many calm down strategies for kids to try. Providing them with a calm down kit or a quiet sensory area can be very beneficial for kids. Ask your child if they would like to try yoga. Yoga can also improve the proprioception and vestibular sensory systems.
Flight, fight and freeze responses are very difficult for a child to experience. Be supportive. Tell them you love them, support them and are there for them. Ask your child how you can help them. Offer them a hug and reassure them that they are safe.
The symptoms of Flight Fight & Freeze Fawn can be challenging for both children. Children may feel overwhelmed and anxious, leading to difficulties with attention and behavior. They may also struggle with social interactions and forming relationships, as their responses may be misinterpreted by others.
There is a part of our brain called the amygdala. The amygdala is like an alarm and as soon as we feel stress, anxiety, worry, fear or danger our alarm goes off. This is the part of our brains that start the flight, fight and freeze.
When you notice that your child is getting overwhelmed acknowledge what they are experiencing and show compassion and understanding. Children often don't understand big feelings and emotions. This can lead to a child feeling extremely overwhelmed, anxious and lead them to a meltdown. 
boy with sensory processing disorder in fight mode FIGHT response Fight Flight Freeze Fawn
- aggressive
- demanding
- controlling
- noncompliant
- hitting and punching
- biting
- crying
- hands in fists
- lying
- blaming
- argumentative
- acting silly, angry or furious
- being defiant
- hyperactive
- throwing things
- possibly threatening
- cursing
We all experience anxiety from time to time and it is a normal part of life, but it can become very overwhelming for some more than others. Anxiety can affect our bodies, feelings and thoughts.
Anxiety can cause different reactions for everyone. When someone struggles with anxiety, they can learn strategies to manage the anxiety in our bodies, feelings, thoughts and our reactions too.
There are several types of childhood anxieties. Separation Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, Selective Mutism, Specific Phobias, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Panic Attacks and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
child with sensory processing disorder in flight mode FLIGHT response Fight FLIGHT Freeze Fawn
- not paying attention
- running away
- wanting to escape
- fidgeting
- stimming
- tense
- feeling trapped
- moving away from everything
- anxious and panicking
- unfocused
- wandering
- hiding
- avoiding
Managing the Flight Fight & Freeze Fawn response can be exhausting and emotionally taxing. Witnessing a child in a state of distress can trigger feelings of helplessness and frustration. It is important for parents to seek support and education on how to best support their child.
It can be an incredibly overwhelming and distressing experience as a parent watching your child experience these responses. . Children may feel out of control, scared, and unable to cope with their environment. They may also struggle with self-esteem and feelings of insecurity, as their responses to sensory input may be seen as challenging by others.
It is very important for parents to understand and validate a child's sensory differences and the resulting responses. Rather than trying to change the child's behavior, it is important to create a safe and supportive environment that allows the child to regulate and cope with their sensory experience.
Flight Fight & Freeze Fawn response is a common manifestation of sensory processing disorder in children. It is a combination of four survival responses – flight, fight, freeze, and fawn – that children may exhibit when faced with overwhelming situations.
child with sensory processing disorder crying in freeze mode FREEZE response Fight Flight FREEZE Fawn
- feeling helpless
- heart pounding
- restricted breathing
- decreased heart rate
- holding breath
- feeling numb
- feeling stuck
- blank stare
- refusing to answer
- unable to move
- zoned out
- collapses
- verbally unresponsive
- wanting to hide
- shutting down
Consult with your child's doctor or therapist if you are concerned for your child. Keep your child's environment as calm as possible while they are experiencing anxiety and flight, fight or freeze reactions.
Practice mindful activities and breathing techniques regularly even when your child is not needing them in that moment. Children who have Sensory Processing Disorder should have sensory breaks throughout the day to keep them regulated.
They need a sensory diet regularly, even when they are not displaying the need for it. We should not wait until they are already dysregulated to accommodate their sensory needs.
child with sensory processing disorder in fawn response mode FAWN response Fight Flight Freeze FAWN
- always offering help
- difficulty describing feelings
- puts others needs before own
- pleasing everyone
- overly complimentary
- seeking approval
- lacking boundaries
- overwhelmed
- overly compliant
- easily peer-pressured
- doesn't ask for help
- struggles to say "no"
- feeling guilt or shame
- scared to share opinions
- neglects own needs
- say what others want to hear
- doesn't express own needs
It is important to explain to your children why they are reacting in fight or flight & freeze so that they don't blame themselves or believe that something is wrong with them. 
When your child is having a fight, flight or freeze response help them practice and focus on their breathing. Avoid asking them to calm down as they are unable to reason with you while they are feeling this way. Reassure them, remind them to focus on their breathing and once they begin to calm down you can start some calming activities. 
Sensory Activities could include yoga, heavy work activities or sensory calming activities. 
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DISCLAIMER: I am not an Occupational Therapist. I am an adult who has Sensory Processing Disorder, a sensory parent and a Grandma. The information on this website is not medical advice and does not replace the information that your child's therapists gives you. These are just ideas and information that I have learned myself over the years of being a parent and an adult living with SPD. If you are concerned for your child, please always seek medical attention through a family doctor, pediatrician or therapist. This website is for suggestions and informational purposes only. Each child is different and what works for one child may not for another because all children have different needs. Please always consult with a professional. Amazon offers a small commission on products sold through their affiliate links on my website.  Each of your purchases through links on my website for Amazon affiliation links or sponsored links support me but no additional cost to you so thank you. I appreciate it so much!